Planning Your First Trip to Disneyland Resort

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First Trip to Disneyland

You have decided to visit the Disneyland Resort for the first time, now what? Here are my top tips to help you get started in the planning process.

When to go:

January, February, and early March are historically low attendance months, but are popular months for maintenance and refurbishments. Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World are normally closed for several weeks in January while their holiday overlay is removed. Spring Break tends to be late March to late April for local southern California schools. It’s wise to avoid that time, if you can. After that period, the crowds remain low until mid-June, which is when the summer crowds begin. If your children’s school schedule demands you travel during their summer break, at least try to avoid 4th of July. It begins to lighten up after August. September and October are great, but the hours will be shorter on the dates of Mickey’s Halloween Party. Christmas decorations go up the first week in November and stay up until the first week of January. During that period, avoid the Saturday before Christmas until the weekend after New Year’s, if at all possible. Those are the busiest two weeks of the entire year.

Where to fly:

If you decide to fly to the area, the two best choices of airports to fly into are LAX and John Wayne (SNA). LAX is often the cheaper choice, but it’s about 45 minutes from the resort. SNA is smaller and about 20 minutes away.

Getting around:

If you won’t be driving or renting a car, you will still need to get to the resort. Southern California Gray Line’s Disneyland Express serves the Disneyland resort hotels, as well as most area off-site hotels, to and from both local airports. Advanced reservations can be made here. If you decide to stay off the resort, and are not staying at one of the hotels across the street on Harbor Blvd, ART provides transportation to and from most, if not all, of the local area hotels. Their route schedule can be found here. Depending on the size of your family, renting a car and paying for parking may be cheaper when considering how much it will cost to use these services. Definitely price compare during your planning.


Where to stay:

First you must decide if you want to stay on or off the resort. Disneyland offers three resort hotels: The Grand Californian, The Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier. If you want complete Disney immersion during your stay, I highly recommend staying on site. The Grand Californian is the resort’s flagship hotel. It’s the most luxurious hotel of the three, with a price tag to match. The Disneyland Hotel just went through a major refurbishment, and is personally my favorite of the three on site hotels. It’s not much cheaper than the Grand, but the new rooms and pool area are amazing! Paradise Pier is the cheapest of the three, but also the furthest from the main gates. All rooms offer a fresh, beach theme, and premium view rooms offer stunning views of Disney California Adventure (DCA). If you choose this hotel, you are able to use the Grand’s hotel entrance into DCA, which will save you some walking.

If you decide to stay off resort, be sure you stay at a Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel. These are local hotels that meet Disney’s high standard of quality and service. Take a look at a previous article I wrote detailing my personal favorite Good Neighbor hotels.

From left to right: The Grand Californian, The Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Paradise Pier.
From left to right: The Grand Californian, The Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier.

How long to stay:

This can often be debated, but I believe you should give yourself at least 4 days to visit the park. I think you can easily spend 3 days in Disneyland Park and at least a day and a half in DCA.

Where NOT to get tickets:

Do not buy your tickets at the gate. Tickets are cheaper when purchased online directly from Disneyland Resort. Also, do not, I repeat, DO NOT buy your tickets from Craigslist or Ebay. Disneyland stipulates that park tickets are not transferable. They take your picture on the first day of use to enforce this.

Learn to use Fastpass:

Disneyland Resort thankfully still has the legacy Fastpass system. Use it! It is free and simple to use. All you do is take your park tickets to the Fastpass kiosk of your ride of choice, stick your ticket in, and take the Fastpass ticket it gives you. You will notice your return time and then the time when you are eligible to obtain a new Fastpass. Then, just go to the Fastpass line at your return time. It’s that easy! Since Radiator Springs is so popular, and World of Color is so late, these two attractions are not on the Fastpass system. This means you can go ahead and get another Fastpass right after you obtain each of those passes, should you choose to do so.

What a typical Fastpass looks like
What a typical Fastpass looks like


Another big DO NOT DO is purchasing the Disneyland Dining Plan. It is nothing like Walt Disney World’s popular dining plan. It is a dollar-for-dollar voucher system, and it’s a huge rip-off. Here’s how it works: You get paper vouchers for every meal and snack you’re entitled to during the plan. You pay the exact amount of money as the total face value of the meals in your book of vouchers. There is absolutely no savings in this plan. Here’s the worst part: Let’s say you only spent $25 dollars for dinner, but your dinner voucher is $40. What happens to the other $15 you spent, you ask? Disneyland keeps it! You don’t get change back. If you spend over the $40, you have to pay the difference. Also, if you were over at DCA and ordered a couple glasses of wine with that $25 dollar dish, you still have to pay for the wine because the vouchers cannot be used for alcohol. To make it even worse, the vouchers aren’t accepted in Downtown Disney and your selection of places to use your snack vouchers are very limited. Just steer clear of it all together. I suggest looking at the list of restaurants at Disneyland’s website. They offer the menus and prices for almost all of the restaurants on the resort. This will give you a good idea of how much to budget for food.


Night time shows:

The two biggest shows on the resort are Fantasmic and World of Color. Each offers their own challenges to get the best seat possible. Fantasmic is shown in Disneyland Park on the Rivers of America. In the picture below, the best area to grab a seat is highlighted. Keep in mind that people will often camp out for a spot hours before the first show starts for the best seats.

World of color is different in that you will not get a good seat at all if you don’t have a Fastpass. You can get these in two ways. The first way to do this is by obtaining a Fastpass at the World of Color Fastpass kiosk by Grizzly River Run and The Grand Californian entrance. These often run out by late morning, so make sure you get one when you first get to the park. The second way is by purchasing a World of Color dining package. The participating restaurants are Carthay Circle, Ariel’s Grotto, and Wine Country Trattoria. Each restaurant has its own section for World of Color, and they will give you a Fastpass ticket for that section once you pay for your meal. Reservations, which are highly recommended, can be made up to 60 days in advance at Disneyland Resort’s website by clicking the dining link I shared above. My personal favorite area is Carthay Circle’s, but in all honesty, they’re all pretty good.

The best area to view Fantasmic
The best area to view Fantasmic


Have fun and soak up the fact that you are in Walt’s park!

If you need help planning your next Disneyland Vacation, please contact my good friend, Loretta ( with Destinations in Florida.

Planning Your First Trip to Disneyland Resort

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